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Berkeley record store clerk Nick Brady (Jonathan Scarfe) begins to experience strange visions from an entity he calls VALIS that cause him to uproot his family and move to Los Angeles where he becomes a successful music company executive. With the help of best friend, science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick himself (Shea Whigam) and a mysterious woman named Silvia (Alanis Morissette), Nick finds himself drawn into a dangerous political-mystical conspiracy of cosmic proportions. The story is set in an alternate reality America circa 1985 under the authoritarian control of President Fremont, a Nixon-like clone (Scott Wilson). Written by
Radio Free LLC
A great film about ideas that deserves more attention
I had the good fortune to watch this film surrounded by a big crowd of hardcore Philip K Dick fans at the second PKD festival that took place in San Francisco a few days ago.
The director and writer (John Alan Simon) was very respectful with the source material (a novel written by PKD in 1976 but not published until 1985) but also took great care in making the movie interesting for anybody who enjoys intelligent movies based on ideas and not on action.
Although I was familiar with the plot because I had read the novel recently, I found myself very engaged on the movie the whole time and that says a lot about of the construction and rhythm of the film.
To me this movies is up there with films like EXistenz, VideoDrome, Cube, Dark City just to mention a few ones. It is the kind of movie that throws a lot of ideas to the audience and that it can let you thinking about them for weeks.
The movie takes place on an alternative version of the United States where a president (Fremont) that has been on power for four consecutive terms is consolidating a highly authoritarian police state. In a national TV broadcast Fremont announces the existence of a subversion organization called Aramcheck which threat to the nation could "force" him to look for a fifth term in power.
A guy named of Nicholas Brady, who works as a clerk at a record store, has a metaphysical experience that he cannot explain: An unknown entity that present himself as VALIS (acronymous for Vast Active Live Intelligent System) starts broadcasting all kind of messages, visions and instructions directly to his brain. These visions end up changing his life completely and put it him and his friend Phil (and alter ego of Philip k Dick) in the middle of a battle of a secret organization to unmask the true intentions of president Fremont.
What it makes this movies timeless is that it deals with the universal theme of David Vs. Goliath: the small guy against the big power. This resonates with many recent events like the Arab spring or the Occupy movement but ultimately it relates to the struggles we all have to face at some points of our lives when we have to go against forces that are beyond our control and that cannot be reasoned with.
One think that I love about the movie (and the novel too) is how the character are questioning themselves all the time about what they are going through. This is not the kind of movie where there is a lot of exposition to make sure that all the audience get the same standard vision. In Radio Free Albemuth the characters are constantly creating and destroying theories about what is going on and that puts the audience at same level of the characters.
All the performance are very solid but I want to highlight two of them. The first one is Hanna Hall who plays Vivian Kaplan, an agent of a paramilitary organization serving president Fremont that has no boundaries when it comes to tracking down any potential threat for the regime. I loved how she managed to portray this cold, manipulative and lack of empathy character.
The other outstanding performance for me was Shea Whigham as Phil. I though that his kind of low key, cynical approach to the character was very appropriate. Although in this novel this is an alter ego of Philip K. Dick, they didn't try to do a direct characterization of him.
However, with all this said, not everything is perfect. Two me the movie has two main flaws. The fist one is with the character of Nick. The movie does not give the audience a real reason to care about this character because it jumps directly into his visions and it only gives a very brief glimpse of how his life was before having these experiences. I think the character would have gained a lot of depth by showing his life as a record store clerk.
Second problem is with president Freemont. His appearances in the movie are limited to the national broadcast he makes from the oval office which in my opinion doesn't help to establish the link between him and the oppression of the regime. His presence in the movie should be stronger.
All in all this a great movie and if you are looking for something different to the cliché-filled movies produced by Hollywood this is a great alternative. If you are a PKD fan you need to see this movie now.
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